Decolonizing food

Our agricultural and food systems embody considerable potential for the powerful and the marginalized alike. Because it is essential to our very existence, those who control food control people. And when we reclaim control over these systems, we open up the possibility of asserting our power in other spheres as well.

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    Letter from the editor

    Necessary for survival and intricately intertwined with our emotions, spirituality and culture, food holds major power. As such, the systems that govern its cultivation, distribution and consumption are fertile battlefields for controversy, domination, generosity and resistance.

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    Food for all!

    In 2009, immigration enforcement entered a community garden outside a Toronto food bank and deported one of its users. The deportation was but one of the 70-odd sweeps, detentions and deportations that happen in Toronto every single day and underscored one of the barriers to food access for undocumented migrants in this country.

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    Selling the farm

    If Harper has his way, CETA – the biggest trade deal since NAFTA – will be finalized by the end of this year. The agreement has largely escaped the attention of the media and food activists, but if gone unchallenged will deal a heavy blow to food sovereignty in this country.

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    Recipe for disaster

    Monsanto is among a handful of powerful multinationals that, with the support of Western governments, including Canada’s, are priming Vietnam to become a hotbed of biotechnology development, with potentially devastating consequences for its land and people.

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    From apple pie and mother’s milk to pop-tarts and formula

    Ninety per cent of pregnant families in Canada plan to breastfeed their children. After the recommended six months later, less than 25 per cent of those families are still exclusively breastfeeding. This is a story of severed cultural ties to breastfeeding knowledge; “breast is best” lip service by many care providers, hospitals and government funding models; and huge marketing dollars from the big multinationals that produce artificial human milk (marketed as the more genteel “formula”).

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    Fair trade and empire

    Fair trade marketing and advocacy rely on the idea that fair trade increases connectedness between Global South producers and Global North consumers. But while fair trade does reduce the number of intermediaries in the supply chain as compared to the free trade system, it also serves to reinforce racist and colonial distinctions between the poor Global South farmer and the benevolent Global North consumer. While it may channel slightly more income into agricultural communities, it ultimately fails to address the colonial capitalist structures that produce the impoverishment of farmers on an ongoing basis.

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    Propagating the food movement

    Rhizomes are horizontal, underground plant stems with the ability to create complex root systems. They can expand relentlessly underground, often lying dormant for years, and re-emerge as healthy plants in different locations when the internal and external conditions are right. Each new plant created is connected to the parent but exists as its own independent, flourishing entity. The rhizome can serve as a metaphor for the Canadian food movement – a decentralized network of diverse, self-organizing, interconnected initiatives with no identifiable beginning or end.

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    20 food initiatives to get excited about

    A recent study on the Canadian food movement found it to be uniquely decentralized and self-propagating in comparison to other social movements. Through phone and e-mail conversations with foodies across the country, Briarpatch learned about dozens of inter-connected but independent food-related initiatives that together are crafting a network of more sustainable, democratic and inclusive food systems that challenge our current corporate, industrial model. What follows is a small sampling of the most exciting initiatives we came across.

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    The colour of food

    Farm workers and their unions have always been at the forefront of the battle to reduce the toxic pesticides served on our fruits and vegetables, fighting for environmental food standards before most consumers were aware of the concept of organic food. Yet today, many food activists seem concerned solely about directly supporting their local farmer, with farm workers’ conditions absent from the seasonal garden tour map.

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    Learning to grow

    Farming, in my experience, is too rich, too complex, too full of pleasure and agony to be learned from a distance. You need to wade ankle deep into mud, gorge on warm berries, toss bales until your fingers bleed.

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    ‘Play in the Hay’ and other agricultural ventures

    While there is a long history of some agri-tourist ventures like pick-your-own fruit farms, contemporary agri-tourist ventures are responding to specific contemporary realities: urban ignorance about food production and the economic need to instill a love and appreciation for local food in local customers.

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    Feeding the revolution

    After years of working for cash-strapped environmental organizations, Rick Morrell founded an organic grocery store in 1996 with the goal of directing profits into the environmental movement. Fifteen years later, Morrell is still struggling to find those profits, but the store has become a mainstay in Regina’s activist community.

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    Peak oil for preteens

    Claudia Dávila’s debut graphic novel, Luz Sees the Light, sets Luz and her friends on a path to transform their fossil-fueled world.

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    In defence of the Canadian Wheat Board

    Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have declared they will end the Canadian Wheat Board single desk in August 2012. Recklessly turning the clock back a hundred years, this move will leave farmers at the hands of the robber barons of the grain trade who are already more powerful than ever before.